I’ve been sending out a little Twitter/Facebook reminder fairly faithfully at 3:00 p.m. (in whatever time zone I live) to call the faithful to prayer, apparently for about four years now. Someone sent me a kind response of appreciation today — which has happened many times before, from different folks.
But their message of encouragement got me to wondering: Why isn’t this the customary time of prayer for believers today?
Especially believers in my tribe, the churches of Christ, who pride themselves on restoring New Testament Christianity through detailed observance of what the church of the first century did?
Does the idea of having a time of prayer at some point or points in the day sound too Catholic (or, God help us, too Muslim) for us to observe in detail?
Or is the real reason that it’s an inconvenient time, and like the dying custom of giving thanks at the dinner table even when dining out, it embarrasses us in public (the reason) and might possibly offend some (the excuse)? Because I’ll admit there are days when my reminder doesn’t get sent because I am in a meeting and it’s perceived as impolite to fool with your iPhone in the middle of a meeting.
Or is it interpretational? Do we see this as a merely Jewish custom (Lord, forgive us if we did anything that Jewish folks might do, too) that the apostles participated in for merely cultural reasons?
Because it IS right there in scripture, Acts 3:1:
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.
And if we claim to do what the early church did, that’s more precedent for us doing it than we have for a lot of other things we do.
So if it’s disregardable because it is a cultural phenomenon, what are the parameters for declaring a practice in the New Testament church binding for all time or cultural-and-therefore-optional-or-even-forbidden?
No, really. I’m asking.
We in churches of Christ generally make a big deal about celebrating the Lord’s supper every Sunday because of a singular example of it being done (or it being intended to be done) on a Sunday (Acts 20:7ff). So it’s not because this time of prayer was only mentioned once. Right?
And how does it work for fasting, which the disciples certainly practiced frequently, and certainly in times of great concentration on seeking God’s will and favor. Cultural? Disposable? Or should we be imitating the example of those believers much, much more often?
You see, this is my whole problem with viewing the scriptures through an exclusive lens of CENI — command, example, necessary inference — as if the only thing of value God wanted to communicate to us was what we’d better daggum well do, or else.
But let’s just go with it for the sake of argument. These are examples that could be followed, and there are lots more, whether believers buy into CENI as a hermeneutic for all scripture or not, or whether they value the Restoration Movement principle of mimicking the early church in every detail or not.
What makes some of these examples-of-church-practice and even some commands/instructions (greeting others with a holy kiss, for example) discardable, but others binding-or-else-hellfire-and-damnation?
And — please take a moment to read this soberly and slowly, and let it sink in — doesn’t pursuit of an answer to that question just put us right back into the mode of being led by the letter of the law to the extent that we’ll even write it ourselves, whether it’s what God has scripture saying to us or not?
Won’t we have to start making rules and categories about when and by whom and how each one is permissible, appropriate, divisive, binding, optional, beneficial?
Is that what we’re called to do? Write rule books where the Bible is silent?
Shouldn’t we rather be led by the Spirit to observe great examples out of the yearning of our hearts and the joy of experiencing what believers of Century One experienced, and ministering to the Lord and to others in ways that we’ve read and understood were tremendous blessings to the saints of old?
I don’t know why a customary time of prayer, and customs like fasting, and practices such as greeting each other with intimate affection have never caught on in a big way among churches of all kinds, and all over the world. I know there are pockets where they are as common as sand in the desert.
I do know that for the believers in those pockets, they are as great a blessing as God Himself can give.
And that’s reason enough for me to keep posting my little reminders when my iCalendar buzzes me at 2:45 each day.
Maybe even when I’m in meetings.